MRI Forum 71

"Hosting Gods versus Hosted by God: Comparing the Formation of
Subjectivities in Chinese Religion and Christianity"


by Adam Yuet CHAU

17 April 2013






Summary of the Presentation

Religious practices, especially the kinds that demand long-term commitments and steadfast observances, will help constitute in the religious practitioner a kind of ‘religious subjectivity’, i.e. an internalised and embodied orientation towards one’s life-world that is informed by religious concepts and precepts. This presentation will compare and contrast the kind of religious subjectivity fostered by Chinese religious practices, which I have characterised as primarily involving the hosting of gods, ghosts and ancestors (i.e. the inviting, banqueting and sending off of these categories of spirits), with the kind of religious subjectivity nurtured in Christian practices, exemplified especially in the Eucharistic rite, where Christian worshippers are hosted by God (with the priest serving as God’s representative-host). While Christian worship is replete with images of worshippers being provided with a banquet at the Lord’s table, Christians, unlike worshippers in Chinese religious practices, cannot host God. This presentation draws upon research for a book project investigating the idiom of hosting (zuozhu 做主) in Chinese religious and political culture.

Profile of the Speaker

Dr. Adam Yuet CHAU is University Lecturer in the Anthropology of Modern China teaching in the Department of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. He grew up in Beijing and Hong Kong and received his anthropological training in the United States (BA, Williams College, 1993; PhD, Stanford University, 2001). He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in rural north-central China on the revival of popular religion in the reform era and, more recently, in Taiwan on temple festivals (e.g. technological innovations connected to rituals). He is the author of Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China (Stanford University Press, 2006) and editor of Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation (Routledge, 2011). He is interested in developing better ways of conceptualising the Chinese religious landscape. One of his career ambitions is to stop people from asking the question ‘How many religions are there in China?’. He is currently working on book projects investigating the idiom of hosting (zuozhu 做主) and forms of powerful writing (‘text acts’) in Chinese political and religious culture all the while translating a traditional illustrated morality book from the Republican period on ‘cherishing written characters’ (xizizhi 惜字紙).